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Suspect in 1986 cold case dies months after confession

The murder of Denise Pflum finally appeared to have a major lead with an arrest in July, but suspect Shawn McClung passed away on Sept. 26 before trial.

CONNERSVILLE, Ind. — It has been called the biggest mystery of Fayette County: what happened to Denise Pflum? 

The case has haunted the community since 1986.

In March of that year, the star athlete and scholar disappeared without a trace.

The case finally appeared to have a major lead with an arrest this past July, but the suspect passed away on Sept. 26 before a trial or plea deal.

“This is my favorite picture of her; it’s just a crowd picture,” Pflum's mom, Judy, said in a previous WTHR interview.

It’s the pictures and memories that help the family of Denise Pflum pull through another setback. In a previous interview in their living room, they showed her works of art that surround them.

“It allows her to be with us,” her father, David, said.

Denise Pflum disappeared March 28, 1986.

Denise, who was 18 when she was killed, hasn’t been physically with them in 34 years, leaving her family with only memories and questions.

In July, her ex-boyfriend, 56-year-old Shawn McClung, was arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter.

“He was arrested on separate charges on defrauding a financial institution and check deception. He had a warrant for his arrest, so he was incarcerated, and we took the opportunity to speak to him about the case again,” said Fayette County Sheriff Joey Laughlin.

Detectives say he confessed, possibly because he was terminally ill.

Denise’s parents were called in and actually faced the suspected killer.

“We were asked to come to the jail that day while he was being interviewed and try to persuade him to tell us the truth,” they said in a statement.

Detectives didn’t get a chance to fully question McClung in 1986 because he moved to Arizona shortly after Denise disappeared. He returned to Connersville about four years ago.

“He was a person that we had wanted to speak to in re-evaluating the case,” Laughlin said.

At a court appearance in early September, Denise’s mom remembered when she saw him: “His eyes were blank, like had no soul."

McClung passed away Saturday after spending about a week at an Indianapolis hospital dealing with an undisclosed illness.

“We were very disappointed that he didn’t give us the information we wanted but are hopeful that his attorney may be authorized to reveal more information after his death,” the Pflum family said.

The community helped raise $100,000 for a reward to finally give the family closure.

“Until we find Denise Pflum’s remains, this investigation stays open. We want to give the family closure, and we have some things we’re going to continue to look into,” Laughlin said.

The lawyer representing McClung said he is working with the Fayette County prosecutor and sheriff’s department to release more information and evidence from McClung.

Laughlin and Det. Chad Blaes believe someone else knows what happened to Denise Pflum and continue investigating and asking for any tips.

The Fayette County Sheriff’s Department can be reached at 765-825-1110 if you have any information about the case.